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Step aside, humans: IBM develops bot that generates real-time commentary on football matches

The commentary is full of insights and witticisms.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 14, 2019, 09.00 AM IST
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The AI-enabled commentary boy uses real-time tracking of players on the field to generate meaningful commentary.
The AI-enabled commentary boy uses real-time tracking of players on the field to generate meaningful commentary.
Sports commentators are a lucky lot. Few people get paid to watch football, let alone from the best seats in the house. The men and women behind the mic are household names around the world, thanks in part, to the witticisms and insights that they expound on air while the action unfolds on the turf. However, the tribe of football commentators could soon be unseated by disruptive technologies.

IBM has developed an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered application that can monitor live video streams and deliver commentary in real time. While the program is yet to perfect text-to-voice output as yet, it is capable of parsing through millions of statistics from previous matches to deliver intelligent commentary in real time.

The program is based uses an automated highlight system that extracts passage of play from a game and turns them into highlight clips. The AI-enabled commentary boy uses real-time tracking of players on the field to generate meaningful commentary. It tracks the spatial orientation of players on the field and compares it with the coordinates of the ball is it is passed on from player to player.

IBM has previously partnered with sports events, and currently provides the underlying technology used for video-based analysis at the Masters PGA golf tournament and Wimbledon. Like all AI application, the IBM bot was trained by making it analyses fifty video clips accompanied by high-quality commentary. It uses an end-to-end system, whereby video is fed as input and textual commentary is generated as output based on predictions made by the AI program.

AI tracks the spatial orientation of players on the field and compares it with the coordinates of the ball is it is passed on from player to player.
AI tracks the spatial orientation of players on the field and compares it with the coordinates of the ball is it is passed on from player to player.

Fans of the beautiful game know that it is impossible to predict what can happen – within a matter of seconds, the ball might be released from the hands of the keeper following a corner and released up-field, only for the ensuing counterattack to result in a goal at the other end. Individual actions, however, are easier to predict, giving the system greater accuracy overall.

The competency of the software was tested at the Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) artificial intelligence conference which began on December 8 in Vancouver, Canada. The results were promising. The AI-powered bot performed well, although it did repeat a few catchphrases.

This aberration could be sorted out by training the algorithm with more clips, and adding a wider array of options for the AI to choose as output. During the demonstration, the system misjudged a short pass as a cross-field ball, but with time, it may be able to anticipate intricate maneuvers better.

However, AI is still a fair distance away from replicating the match day feels generated by the emotive, insightful and - often - partisan banter exchanged by human commentators.

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